Falling for the Brother(6)

By: Tara Taylor Quinn

He hadn’t left her sitting there crying, though. He’d made the biggest mistake of his life. He’d invited her along.

“I like your hair shorter,” he said, mostly to remind himself that the night in question was long ago. To get his head out of the past and into his current situation.

Some women might have raised a hand to their hair. Made a comment. Smiled even. Harper just nodded.

Although he was having more difficulty than he’d expected holding her eyes, he’d refused to look lower than that pencil in her hands. But when she continued to assess him, his damned gaze dropped.

And noticed the gun strapped to her hip. The beige uniform hadn’t surprised him. Both of the guards, her employees, whom he’d met the night before, had been wearing them. They’d been armed, too, but…

“I’m fully trained to use it,” she said, seeing where his gaze had landed.

He nodded. “Graduated at the top of your academy class,” he said, letting her know he remembered. From what he’d been told, she quit the Albina police force when she divorced his younger brother. According to his father, for the two years she’d served, she’d been a good cop. Good instincts. No hesitation.

It wasn’t like she was hesitating now, either. She was…waiting.

He’d asked for the meeting. This was his call.

“My grandmother…” He stopped, met Harper’s stare. In his line of work as an independent crime scene investigator, he saw a lot of gruesome things, studied horrific photos and picked apart heinous crime scenes down to the smallest detail. He’d learned how to compartmentalize a long time ago. He opened his mind, not his heart. And yet, he had to take a minute to stop the quiver inside him as he thought of the scene he’d come upon the evening before.

“I’ve been working in Alabama for most of the past month,” he began. “Was on a serial killer job in Boston before that. With all the new DNA technologies, cold cases are coming out of the woodwork, and departments don’t always have the manpower or the time necessary to study the evidence and pictures…”

She seemed fully focused on him.

“Anyway, you don’t need me to get into that,” he concluded.

She held the pencil in one hand now, while two fingers of the other moved up and down the shaft. She wasn’t as composed as he’d thought.

His family wasn’t hers anymore. Hadn’t been for all that long anyway. Didn’t mean she didn’t care about Miriam. They were still her daughter’s family.

He’d seen pictures of the kid a couple of times in the past four years. Cute. From what his grandmother—who chattered about her on a regular basis—had relayed, Mason figured the child might be a bit too inquisitive for his comfort, but smart. According to Miriam, the little girl had a great disposition, not at all whiny.

Harper wasn’t the whiny sort. He couldn’t imagine her being tolerant of it in her daughter.

She was still watching. Waiting for him.

“I make it a point to stop and see Miriam as soon as I return from a job. Especially since Dad’s been gone…”

Harper hadn’t gone to Oscar’s funeral. Brianna had been there, but Mason only got a brief glimpse of her. In Bruce’s arms. Clinging to him and burying her cute blond head in his shoulder as someone approached. Mason had spent most of his time watching over his inconsolable grandmother, and Bruce had left him to it. Keeping his distance from the older brother who’d betrayed him.

Miriam had taken her son’s death much harder than her husband’s, and Mason had his hands full. Back before his mother died, she’d always been at Gram’s side, and then his father had stepped in. Now it was up to him.

“I was expecting to be in Alabama until next week, but I caught a break in the case and got an earlier flight out. Gram’s been struggling a lot this year. Seeming to age right before my eyes…”

“Did you talk to Bruce about it?” He listened carefully as she mentioned his brother. Her ex. Trying to determine if the closeness his brother had alluded to truly existed. Her tone, her expression… She could’ve been speaking of a mutual friend.

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